That...and a Bag of Chips
by Marlene Hyer
Out on the prairie now just a week, Jake longed for his old apartment in an active pedestrian part of town. He missed being able to walk to the library, to his job, to the grocery store, and to the post office. He missed having two record stores within a mile of his place. Now there was nothing, just sand and golden brown flatness. And poorly placed housing developments. And strip malls on barren tracts of land. It looks like hell, like God (or maybe even the Devil) flew a plane over the prairie and crapped out a bunch of ticky tack Monopoly houses. The houses look so out of place in their cookie cutter neighborhoods that dead end into cul de sacs. There are no trees around the houses. It would take thirty years to defy Mother Nature in this fashion. The houses are naked, sterile. Trophy houses. A sign of status, of wealth, of arrival into the middle class, nestled in the bosom of professionals who want something better for their children. They sure don’t want their children growing up in the urban ghetto, where Jake had happily lived up until the accident.
Jake had gotten out of the hospital two weeks ago from an extended two month stay to find bills piling up. His health insurance (which he had paid for out of his own pocket since his employer didn’t offer an affordable plan) was maxed out as far as what was allowable for the year. He had lost his job to someone with the ability to show up. His rent had gone unpaid, forcing him to abandon his apartment. He was ashamed that he could no longer take care of himself, his daily needs. He could walk, but just barely. He fatigued easily. One of the last things that his health insurance had paid for was a motorized buggy with a shopping basket attached. He still hadn’t the guts to give it a whirl. If he did, he would have to accept that he is handicapped. He was nowhere near acceptance. Even renting a room in a total stranger’s home did not prompt Jake to accept his new station in life. Medicaid had referred him to the Marx family who rented him a room and took care of his basic needs, reimbursed to them by Medicaid for poor people and by Disability for disabled people.
Flashbacks about the incident were frequent and unrelenting. He remembered that evening vividly, at least up until the incident. Jake’s first love was music. He had made quite a following for himself as a disc jockey for hire when he wasn’t working at Whirling Disc Records. His boyish enthusiasm excited even the lamest crowd. He lived hand to mouth except for the rare weekend when he scored back to back gigs on both weekend nights. Jake preferred to DJ at parties rather than wedding receptions. When he first started doing wedding receptions, the romance of the job had restored his faith in love and matrimony and happily ever after. After about the fourth gig, he became disheartened. The subtle nuances of the dynamics of the parties involved unfolded before him. He soon realized that people didn’t love each other. They were not really grown ups and were only playing at life. They were in fact envious of one another, conniving and callous. During his tenure as a wedding disc jockey, Jake noticed only one exception to this banal immaturity (his friend Larry and his wife Karen). Jake predicted that each of the couples would meet the painful fate of divorce within one to three years. Especially the couple in question on the night of the incident.
It was a cold December night. The Christmas parade traffic had derailed his perfect plan of pulling up to the front entrance of the swank hotel and unloading the cumbersome, heavy equipment. Instead he had to navigate the maze that was the underground parking garage. Jake found a spot amazingly close to the elevators that led up to the hotel lobby. He gingerly hoisted both of the oversized 50 pound speakers onto his hand cart then piled the amplifier on top and strapped the load on. He would have to make a separate trip for the speaker stands, the receiver, and the CDs. When he finally found the room where the reception was being held, he was all of the way in the back corner of the hotel. The room was amazingly small and far removed from the main lobby and the action of the hotel sports bar. Three round tables were set for a total of twenty adults. The head table was decorated in pink crepe to welcome the new bride and groom and their witnesses. A standard three-tiered wedding cake sat perched on a table in the corner opposite the DJ table. Jake unloaded the cart then went back for the remaining equipment. He was always mindful to bring the CDs in last so that he could guard them. His boss always harped on how indispensable the CDs were. You can rebuild the library, but you’d have a hell of a time replacing the books, his boss Ken had said. The equipment was borrowed from Ken who owned and managed the entertainment company with its cadre of clowns, DJ s, musicians, and magicians.
The reception started off normally enough. Jake played some quiet civilized dinner music including Johnny Mathis and Smokey Robinson. Ken was there that night because he fancied himself a jack of all trades- a real entertainment guru. He was a musician and a DJ and even pinch hit for sick clowns and magicians. On top of all of that, he was a minister too. Jake never inquired as to how legitimate his credentials were, whether he had earned the right to marry from the Internet or from the ad that had long been in the back of The Rolling Stone magazine. He had married the happy couple on only a week’s notice. That fact in itself was a bad omen. Ken had this big seventies hairdo; he looked like a cross between a bearded Elvis and Denny Terrio from Dance Fever fame. No one dared remind him that thirty years had passed, therefore he needed a new haircut, a shave, and a beard trim. One would think that these particular physical characteristics would prevent him from getting any attention from the young ladies--that and his wedding ring. Jake stood corrected on that score. He observed Ken schmoozing with the bride and her family, drinking red wine, and standing entirely too close to the bride’s nineteen year old friends. Ken got tipsier and tipsier as the night wore on, dancing the wedding reception standard mandatory dances right alongside the bride, the Macarena and The Electric Slide. Jake despised these songs. He found them boring and corny, the people who danced to them to be shallow and ridiculous. The bride had requested them, so what choice did he have?
Jake played the standard combinations-three fast one slow, followed by four fast two slow. He couldn’t run them like mules on the dance floor, Ken said. He hurriedly prepared the selections interspersed with desperate dopey requests for Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, and Brian McKnight--definitely not his own musical taste. The guests complained when he played “Night Fever”. They seemed unable and unwilling to try to dance to it. This left him feeling shocked and bewildered. Jake had always believed that the disco tempo was specifically designed for stupid white people so that they could look like they knew how to dance. While the songs were playing, Jake observed the main attraction, their guests, and their families. There was a bizarre interplay among the attendees. Ken was inappropriately hitting on the bride, her mother, and her teeny bopper friends. The groom’s mother, a traditional Chinese women who obviously didn’t approve of her son’s bi-racial union, mysteriously disappeared from the event after a stilted 45 second dance with her son-- the shortest mother-son dance in wedding history. The groom was indiscreetly absent throughout the night (for a half hour at a time), allegedly out at the hotel bar flirting with the ladies who were at the hotel for corporate holiday parties. What a pick up line he must have had! The bride, who was probably not even of legal drinking age, picked up a bottle of wine, propped it up to her mouth, and guzzled it. She humped the dance floor during “Ice Ice Baby”, and Jake repeatedly witnessed her hitting on a Mexican gentleman from the hotel catering staff.
Jake was growing weary as the night progressed. No one had even offered him so much as a glass of water while Ken enjoyed a full meal and endless flowing wine and champagne. Random guests periodically approached his table to bark requests. He didn’t have a watch and there was no clock in the room. Was this gig ever going to be over? The family dynamics were unsettling, especially considering there were so few people at the event. The conflicts became amplified. The bride’s sister was getting drunker and drunker and louder and louder by the minute. She screamed at the hotel manager for double booking the bride and groom’s honeymoon suite. The couple who had checked into the suite earlier that evening were suddenly inconveniently evicted as the bride’s sister yelled, “You wanna see ghetto? I’ll show you ghetto!” The bride and groom would have to wait for their room to be vacated and cleaned which would prolong their reception, causing the hotel staff to have to stay late, causing an exhausted DJ to keep playing to a disgruntled wedding party. It was becoming increasingly difficult for Jake not to judge the family, not to judge Ken for booking this doomed gig.
At about twelve fifteen a.m., (Jake didn’t know for sure) the drunken swaggering groom burst into the room. The bride started interrogating him as to his whereabouts. The drama ensued with the bride’s sister pouncing on the groom, giving him “what for”. Fisticuffs broke out. The bride’s father, a burly fire fighter from Oklahoma, sucker punched the groom. The groom fell back against the speaker stand. At precisely that moment, the bride’s sister, a large busty woman with cleavage oozing out of her strapless dress, dove onto the downed groom, knocking the speaker stand completely off balance. Jake, in tune with his own foresight, in slow motion attempted to lunge out of the way. He wound up tangled in the microphone cord, suffering the full impact of the fallen speaker on his back and neck. Ken looked on in horror as his entertainment empire crumbled. The bride had since lost her drunken balance and stumbled against the table, toppling the receiver, the other speaker, and the CDs, scattering them, sending them clinking, skipping, and rolling all over the dance floor.
Despite the new blanket of glistening snow, Jake was determined to walk the mile to the Kwik Way convenience store to get a bag of chips. He had a craving. Nothing could stop a craving. With little else in life to comfort him, a bag of chips was small consolation. The snow nearly blinded him as the sun sparkled in a prism on its surface. He hobbled along, leaving sure, deliberate boot prints in the snow on the sidewalk along Logan Avenue. Jake nearly slipped on the ice a time or two. It annoyed him to the point of considering employing the motorized buggy the next time. Magpies squelched out antagonistic melodies from bare bushes in nearby front yards.
On the way home, he followed the same sidewalk
in the opposite direction. He carefully placed an inverted boot print
upside down right next to the original forward moving imprint, making it
look as if the person was either retarded or had a foot on backwards. The
boot prints matched identically. They looked like mirror images of
each other, back to back, happily wedded.